Some more thoughts on mobile browser based games

Ever since my first attempt at making games with JavaScript I’ve wanted to remake the games that I grew up with. Galaxians, Space Invaders, Defender, Scramble, Spy Hunter…
These are the games that turned me on to video games and hold a special place in my heart.
Using the newer HTML5 technologies I continue to pursue my goal of re-crafting those special games from 30 years ago.

When I bought the book Building iPhone apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript I realised that there was scope for extending my HTML5 games to mobile handsets. Suddenly a whole new world of game development opened up. I quickly (too quickly) reshaped my first HTML5 game Wizard Wars to fit on the iPhone and implemented some touch screen controls. The result was pretty nice and I managed to get some valuable exposure for it. Naturally I was super excited at the potential for having my desktop games also playable on my phone.
So I followed it up with HyperGunner (again developed for the desktop and shoe-horned in to a mobile format) and more recently Spy Chase.

I had of course blindly assumed that any game, regardless of its content and style, would be just as attractive to mobile gamers as desktop gamers. Surely the rules of game design are laid down such that they are relevant to any format ?
Well life works best when you learn stuff and I’m learning more about game design all the time.

Some recent activity in the HTML5 gaming community has steered me towards rethinking my approach to designing games for mobile devices.
I decided to ask myself some key questions. The answers to which could potentially come very close to challenging my own thoughts on the relationship between my beloved retro arcade games and today’s mobile games.

If you are playing a game on a mobile phone what are you looking for ?
Is it all about limited time to play or is there room for a longer game experience ?
How important are the visuals ?
Do the traditional rules of challenge and reward count for anything ?
and less crucially but just as relevant.. what is the profile of your typical casual mobile phone gamer ?

The more I research the market for casual mobile games and the more I repeat those questions in my mind the more I see a disturbing trend towards what I consider shallow games.
I’m not interested in over complicating my games but I do enjoy layering the challenges where possible. I certainly didn’t rekindle my interest in designing games to create game experiences with no substance. I did it because I want to explore rich gaming experiences that can be enjoyed at a stretch not hurled in to the bin after 2 minutes.

Now I’m happy to hold my hands up to the fact that I may have fallen short in my first attempts at creating games. But I do believe that I have used some tried and tested techniques in creating their challenges and setting their various stages.

Not everything I’ve seen is cause for concern. There are some fascinating exceptions. Anything with physics for example works a treat for me. But by and large the casual mobile browser gaming sector is swamped with throwaway games with little or no challenge. If I see another game involving changing the colour of a brick or matching 3 diamonds in a row …..

I always have new game ideas. I sketch them in to a book that is brimming with characters, challenges and game styles. They start as seeds and I develop them over time to be more rounded and what I would consider a full game experience. For example, I had an idea for hurling a character vertically in to the sky from a catapult. As the character descends with a parachute you steer him away from spikey objects and try and stay airborne for as long as possible. That in itself might be an interesting game but I soon set about adding things to flesh it out a bit.

In all my games I try to involve the ability to shoot at stuff. This can cause problems on a touch screen but if handled well is a nice experience. In my parachute game I’d figured a way to spray bullets downwards from your character. I needed stuff to shoot at. Before long the game’s design was full of mini challenges and layers of complexity. It’s this that thrills me.

But in what I’ve seen of successful mobile browser games the very first step of hurling the character in to the sky would pretty much suffice. Nothing more, just catapulting your character high in to the sky as far as you can..

So I’ve temporarily changed direction. For the time being I won’t focus on creating mobile browser games. My brain just doesn’t think that way. I’m always trying to add to a design to flesh it out. I wouldn’t ever have that sense of “finally it’s done”. I’d always be looking to move it along a bit. I enjoy a certain amount of complexity.

I am in complete admiration for anyone that can create successful mobile browser games but there is a certain discipline required that I just don’t possess.
Most important of all though, I’m simply not interested in that style of game design.

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  • roberto  On April 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    “Some recent activity in the HTML5 gaming community has steered me towards rethinking my approach to designing games for mobile devices.”

    Umm, I’m very curious, what html gaming community? I’ve been looking for a dev community for html5 games. :)

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